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'Depression' is the catchword among college students
By Wang Zhenghua (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-02-08 09:25

Last month, a postgraduate student surnamed Yang of Beijing Jiaotong University took his life at his dorm.

A month earlier, Wang Xiao, a sophomore of Beijing-based Renmin University of China, killed himself by jumping from a six-storey building.

And it was not because of typical problems encountered by college students such as finding a job or enduring the pain of a love affair that led to the tragedies.

According to Wang Jianzhong, a member of a committee specializing in the mental issues of college students, many college students are tortured by various degrees of psychological problems, and suicide is the ultimate way they sought to resolve their conflicts and issues.

Mental status

A report on the mental status of college students released last year said that around 16.5 per cent of 500,000 college students in Beijing have tendencies towards mental illnesses.

In the United States, around 37 per cent of college students have contemplated suicide at least once, according to a report.

Students receiving a higher degree of education in China numbered 16 million by the end of 2002 across the country.

The mental well-being of this special group not only has a great deal to do with the preservation of the country's intellectuals, but also concerns the security and development of society since they constitute elite elements of it.

But what on earth is wrong with them?

Depression kills

Depression, a word that should normally not apply to these spirited youths, has weirdly become the most popular pet-phrase among Chinese students.

During the critical period from April to June last year when the country was in the midst of the SARS epidemic, many college students in Beijing fled to their hometowns by air or train, running the risk of spreading the virus to other areas. Their irresponsible behaviour was strongly denounced on the Internet.

Other awkward cases include: Some grown students are accompanied by their parents when they leave their hometowns to pursue studies, since they cannot take care of themselves properly; some fearful girls dare not to go out of campus just because of rumours that some AIDS patients were assaulting pedestrians in the street.

All of these have attracted the attention of education and mental-health professionals.

According to Zhao Ying, a teacher and psychological consultant at Renmin University of China, one of the most common problems faced by her students is that they cannot handle interpersonal relationships well.

"Many of them find it difficult to live harmoniously under one roof with roommates, since many of them are the only child in their families and have been spoiled by their elders," says Zhao.

Li Shun, a senior student of a Beijing-based university, moved to live off campus when he was in grade two. He said he felt extremely suffocated in the dorm since his roommates had been trying to "push him out" and never opened their hearts to him.

However, his roommates argue that they hate leaden conformity because they are equals and Li always attempted to be a leader in the dorm and seek the limelight.

Another issue that is frequently raised by students is love affairs, according to Zhao.

Key issue

"Love is a key issue among young people," says Zhang Houcan, a member of the Chinese Psychological Society, who is also a professor at Beijing Normal University.

She says most college students have turned into adults and their first love and marriage are probably accomplished before they are 29 years old, when many of them are still receiving graduate education at school.

"But current youths are imperceptibly being influenced by what they constantly see in society, especially on TV," says Zhang, adding that current students are more sensitive and open-minded towards romance than their predecessors.

And compounding these pressures is the grave employment situation facing current graduates and the general lack of a substantial goal when they pursue studies, says Zhao. In the early 1980s, college students were truly "god's favourites," she recalls.

According to Yan Xiuling, a 1984 graduate of a Fujian-based university, only four out of 100 candidates had the opportunity to study in a college or university.

They did not worry about their future after graduation since jobs would be allocated; and a large number of them have become the backbone of all walks of life.

On the contrary, students now face the reality that many universities are enlarging enrollment and it is more difficult to find employment after graduation.

According to a Shanghai-based education science institute, the number of college students has soared from 6.4 million in 1998 to 12.1 million in 2001.

Zhang Xiaotian, a 2002 graduate of University of Science and Technology of Suzhou, says her father, a rural worker, is quite upset that she has not yet found a job after he endured so much hardship to put her through college.

According to Nie Zhenwei, a member of the committee specializing in the mental issues of college students, as many as 70 per cent of the 70-odd Beijing-based colleges and universities have established psychological consulting centres on campus, which are expected to provide students with access to psychological professionals to discuss their conflicts and issues.

However, as only several of those are performing their function regularly and properly, many students in other colleges are still denied the help of professionals, notes Nie.

Some, such as Renmin University of China, have also set up selected courses to impart the basics of psychology ABC and sex education.

For instance, Hu Deng, a professor at the university, who teaches a course "the sentiment and psychology of college students," had to double the original enrollment because of strong demand from students.

But some experts point out that the classes can only teach some basic knowledge about psychology and deep-rooted mental problems of students still remain unresolved.

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